22 April, 2007
Since it launched its Ecomagination campaign in May 2005, General Electric (GE) has managed to catapult itself on to the list of forward-thinking “green” corporate giants. So when Lorraine Bolsinger, GE’s Mrs. Ecomagination herself visited Brussels this week, it seemed like an excellent opportunity to witness first hand whether her presentation would convince me that “green is really green” (The title of the event was: “Is green green?”, although the second green in this title has more to do with the colour of money).
Let me state upfront that i was only half convinced at the end of Mrs. Bolsinger’s presentation.
It is encouraging that a company the size of GE (with a reputable history in terms of environmental record) is trying to clean up its act and is starting to understand that green business can be profitable business. Its commitment in 2005 to double its investment in clean research and development (from 700 million in 2005 to 1.5 billion in 2010) and to increase its revenues from ecomagination products from 10 billion to 20 billion dollars in 2010 is certainly a good beginning.
Bolsinger’s presentation underlined that GE’s ecomagination products are growing stronger than its traditional product portfolio. So far, the good news. Bad news is that GE currently has only 45 ecomagination products (“60 by the end of the year”, dixit Bolsinger) and thousands of other (less eco-friendly?) products. When I asked her whether GE should not “green” its whole product range, she replied (as expected) that that is what she would wish for in the long run.
Also, green products do not make a sustainable economy. Take one of GE’s major ecomagination successes: the GEnx aircraft engine family. With an increased fuel efficiency of 15% compared to other engines, this product is indeed setting green technology standards. But with exploding aviation growth in the next decennia, this improved fuel efficiency will be easily offset by an increasing number of flights. Technology improvements alone will not bring about the new low-carbon economy.
The question is in how far GE (and other big and small companies) can turn around their whole business practice and integrate ecological-industrial thinking into its strategic decisions. And for GE and so many others, the jury on that one is still out.
Nonetheless, i remain convinced that businesses will be the main drivers of change as politics seems to have lost thought leadership and consumers are still trapped in the attractions of consumption heaven.
- The Economist: The greening of General Electric (Dec 2005)
- GE’s 2005 Ecomagination Report: Taking on big challenges
- BrandChannel.com: GE imagines a greener future (comparison with Shell’s green efforts)